Getting out of it


Discover how a poor child tries to survive in the city of Altenor!


Cedric Neumann & Laureline Brun

Getting out of it

Distant screams and the sound of blows, that’s what woke the boy from his sleep. He must have been about ten years old at the most. His patched clothes made it easy to see that he was struggling to find food.

As the screams grew louder and closer to him, the boy opened his eyes and sank further into his hiding place. His body was sore and still numb from the night’s cold, but he didn’t have much time to worry about it. Here, in the slums of Altenor, one had to fight for survival at every turn, and this boy, named Pips, was no exception. So he quickly got up and ran away from the scene of the fight, leaving the small corner where he had spent the night.

Out of danger as far as he could tell, Pips took a breath. While he rested, the rings had turned again. This was what his awakenings in this ever-changing city sometimes looked like. He found himself away from his workshop and had no time to wait for another rotation.

He should have been on his way… like every day… he should have spent long hours slaving away for a pittance but he didn’t want this life anymore!

Did he have a choice? He had to find food, and he needed the three pennies he got from his job. Over the first few months, he had slowly resigned himself to this miserable existence. Until yesterday, when Pips slammed the door of his workshop!

A few days before this incident, he had met a man introducing himself as a famous Shadow of Altenor. The man had lured him and cornered him in an alley. The man was one of the Rats. For once, Pips felt lucky. The recruiter was obviously interested in him: he had given him a piece of bacon and praised the boy’s speed, alertness and small size. Eventually, the man made the poor kid an unexpected offer: the promise of safe housing and a full belly in exchange for a few hustles and scams. Pips didn’t think about it for long: that’s how he found himself having to go today to the 2nd ring to find the recruiter.

With a doughnut in his mouth, Pips walked through the filthy alleys of his territory. He always tried to be as discreet as possible. He lowered his eyes in front of all the slightly threatening characters and carefully bypassed the most patient ones he saw. His journey was going well, a rare thing in these low quarters, when something, someone, hit him head on!

Surprised, he immediately raised his head while confounding himself in apologies. The face of the individual caused a shiver of terror to run down his spine. The huge scar on his face and the piece of tattoo visible on his neck left no doubt… the stranger belonged to the Cerbions. Our friend had painfully learned to avoid this guild of heavy hitters, each more terrifying than the last.

The warrior woman, for she was a woman, had obviously hit him on purpose. And yet, she stared at him with intense contempt. He tried to articulate pitiful excuses but she was not listening.

Instead, she offered him a carnivorous smile and slipped her hand in the pocket of her coat. He thought he could see the shape of a dagger… the terrible feeling that he would not get out of this situation unscathed seized him and panic invaded him.

He had to find a way to escape but his body didn’t seem to want to obey him anymore! All his limbs were shaking and he felt drops of sweat beading on his forehead and neck.

As the smile of the horrifying stranger grew, her eyes also seemed to grow larger. They were huge and filled with insanity! Pips was sure she was wondering how to hurt him the most or if he would squeal like a pig.

Everything happened extremely fast. He took to his heels, running like he had never run before. He weaved in and out of passers-by, brushing their clothes as he went. The moment seemed surreal to him: the wind whistled in his ears and the blood beat so hard in his temples that they seemed about to explode. He decided to change rings, jostling a few people as they crossed a rope bridge linking two discs.

He almost fell but caught himself on a kite strut and resumed his frantic run as soon as he touched down.

He had to lose his pursuer at all costs! He took advantage of his small size to get ahead of everyone else, while the strong-willed warrior struggled to catch up. After a moment which seemed to him an eternity, he found refuge in a heap of boxes, located at a place which he knew rather well and which he judged rather sure… An infamous smell of fish came up to his nose as soon as he put his feet in one of them. It was nothing compared to the smell that assailed him as he curled up in the bottom of the tank. The gigantic port of Altenor provided many fish that could be found more or less fresh in the city. Our protagonist had found refuge in the back of a third-rate stall, in a peripheral district far from the heart of the city.

He felt a little bit better, all snug in his crate. But his breath was still short, and his heart rate high. He had probably experienced one of the greatest fears of his short life, probably not the last one, given his situation. He had to pull himself together… His recruiter had given him a chance today and he couldn’t afford to miss it. Ten minutes later, with his heart still pounding, he dared to get out and get going again.

The rest of the way calmed him down. After walking for about thirty minutes and changing rings several times, Pips arrived safely at the meeting point. The recruiter was waiting for him. They recognized each other from a distance. The boy took a breath and stood up straight before walking towards the scowling man.

“It took you a long time… You stink of fish!” he said in a burst without looking the boy in the eye. “You’d better be good if you hope to stay. At home, nobody dawdles!”

Before Pips could answer, the man spun him around. He was inspecting him. When he was satisfied, he turned back to some street kids. They were dirty. The group consisted of two alacars, a cohor and three humans. For some, it was hard to tell if they were girls or boys. Two were well dressed. He said to them: “What do you think? Shall we take it? The question was obviously rhetorical, and the young people barely nodded but glared at the newcomer. They didn’t seem to be thrilled with the arrival of a future companion, at best indifferent.

“Well… the man said, “it should be okay, I guess… you’re lucky! These kids might be your new family. But first, show me what you’ve got. If you bring back a purse in fifteen minutes, maybe we’ll adopt you… Got it?”

Our kid didn’t have to be told twice, he knew what to do and dashed off towards a busy street. He had to prove himself quickly! Remembering his past petty thefts, he began to scout carefully. Choosing his target well was a guarantee of success. His gaze passed over the crowd in search of potential victims. He scanned, checked for tattoos, looked at the clothes of passers-by, then at the size of their purses and bags.

He was thus fully concentrated, when he felt a muscular arm seize his collar. He didn’t have time to raise his head before he was pulled towards a dark corner and tackled! Pain in the head. Pips looked up and had just enough time to recognize the warrior before he felt the blade on his neck… he stopped moving.

A throaty, carnivorous laugh rang in his ears before she said softly, almost tenderly, “No one escapes Hannibal.” Pips tried to free himself but he was in a vise of muscles. He didn’t have time to pull back. The knife slashed his livid throat; blood spurted out, spraying the ground and Hannibal indiscriminately; it also ran down the boy’s chest. The heat of the liquid marked him more than the pain of the blade biting into his flesh. Both sensations took away his last hope for a better life.

“I almost made it…” he thought, fleetingly.

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